Thursday, July 5, 2012

Being a Technical Writer

Before I became a technical writer, I always underestimated the work. ‘Huh! Big deal… writing about how to use a product, or why to use a product must be just click this – do that…’ that was my opinion, like all the Developers and Testers. Little did I know that writing is very different from technical writing.

On my very first day as a technical writer, my Manager asked me to pick up any 5 items in my vicinity and define them. When I looked around, I found these – a table, chair, telephone, a book, and a pen. I found it silly to write about such things that we knew right when we were all toddlers. I sat down at my table with a pen and a paper. And, dear me, it was very difficult to articulate!!! I had too many words to fit in a definition. I wrote, then cut it off… then wrote again, and cut it off… For the first 5-10 minutes I would have written 5 versions of definitions just for a table and a chair… Just try it yourself. Before you read further, can somebody define a telephone for me?  These are all my versions of definitions of a telephone:

A telephone is a machine used to talk.

 Poorly written!

A telephone is a device that is used to talk.

 Can be better!

A telephone is a device that is used to communicate.

 Something is missing.

A telephone is an electronic device that is used to communicate.

 Incomplete definition!  I wrote many more versions of this definition and finally wrote this:

A telephone is an electronic device that is used to communicate between two or more people who are distributed geographically.

Phew! Finally, I arrived at the correct definition. Can you now imagine how technical writing is different from writing? I then realized why my Manager had asked me to do this exercise. It was her way of teaching me that technical writing is not as easy as we assume it to be. Or, perhaps, it was her way of testing my writing skills. That’s why whenever I find somebody talking low about technical writing, I have an urge to make them undergo this test.

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